Flat Screen TVs Can Hang on Your Living Room Wall

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Picked up a large-screen television lately? At 200 pounds or more, these behemoths aren't only heavy, they take up loads of space. It's the same problem with large computer monitors. They're desk hogs.

"Once you've gone around one three times, you're pretty tired," quips Marc Steatham, marketing manager for BT North America, the US arm of the British telecommunications giant.

Fortunately, a solution is waiting in the wings. It's called flat-screen television. And it will likely take over the market for large TVs and computer monitors as soon as manufacturers find a way to produce the screens cheaply.

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The benefits are huge. These devices will be able to show all the big-screen dazzle of "Gone With the Wind" but be light enough to hang on your wall. Several Japanese manufacturers are already preparing to sell flat-screen televisions in Japan.

Fujitsu is one. Its new flat-panel display features a huge 42-inch screen, but is less than 3 inches thick and weighs only 40 pounds. If the company tried to make a traditional TV that size, it would weigh 10 times as much and be nearly three-feet deep.

To create these devices, Japanese companies are using plasma technologies. By passing voltage through tiny tubes filled with low-pressure gas, the companies have found various ways to create color pictures. The flat-screen displays are commonly called plasma-display panels or PDPs.

As good as the technology is, you probably aren't quite ready to buy a PDP yet. NEC, one of the leaders in the field, plans to sell its 42-inch, flat-screen TV for about $9,000, and only in Japan. The Japanese manufacturers have not announced plans for the US.

Other TV manufacturers are skeptical that they will sell PDPs in America until they can find a way to make them for far less money. And that may take several years, says James Harper, spokesman for Thomson Consumer Electronics, which makes the RCA, ProScan, and GE brand models.

Even some Japanese manufacturers are hedging their bets. While teaming with Sony to develop its 25-inch Plasmatron, Sharp is also unveiling at this week's Comdex computer show a 40-inch flat-screen prototype using more traditional liquid-crystal display (LCD) technology. This is the type of screen used in laptop computers today, only bigger. Big LCDs are costly to make because just a few imperfections can ruin an entire screen. And the bigger they are, the more likely that imperfections will crop up. Still, certain computer users are willing to pay the high price.

For example, financial and commodities traders are eager for bigger computer screens that can display more information simultaneously. Yet they often want to keep an eye on their colleagues or a trading floor - something that's hard to do with two or more bulky monitors sitting on their desks.

That's why as part of its "trading desk of the future," BT is demonstrating flat-screen monitors. At $3,500 to $6,000 a pop, the screens aren't cheap. But the New York Stock Exchange has become an early user, and Mr. Steatham expects trading companies and other exchanges will follow as prices fall.

As any laptop owner knows, every year LCD screens get bigger, brighter, and cheaper. Will PDPs follow suit?

Japanese companies are making every effort. They're pumping millions of dollars into new PDP factories that can produce large volumes of screens. NEC expects the market to reach $4.5 billion by the year 2000 and $13 billion two years after that.

That may be optimistic. But when the US moves to the next generation of TV broadcasting, known as high-definition television, get ready to make room for the 40-inch set - hung on your living-room wall.

*Send comments to lbelsie@ix.netcom.com or visit my In Cyberspace forum at http://www.csmonitor.com

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